On His Majesty’s Secret Service

There were three gliders in the sky. Each was being towed by a Ziermann Flugzeugwerke Mayfly four-engine heavy transport aircraft. The lead glider was crammed full of soldiers sitting with their backs to the fuselage. At the front, right beside the door to the cockpit sat Commander Erik Zeetrell. His long curly blond hair framed his unpainted face. He made one final check on his pistol and holstered it before he turned to look down the length of the glider. In his eyes you could see his determination to complete his mission no matter what.

“Crash positions.”

The shout from the cockpit broke the silence. Erik looped his right arm through a restraint attached to the bulkhead separating him from the cockpit and linked his left arm with the right arm of the soldier beside him and locked his hands together. Then he lifted his feet a few inches off the floor. A quick glance showed that all the soldiers had linked their arms with the men either side of them and lifted their feet as well.

The glider hit the ground with an enormous thump and there was loud screeching from the landing skids as they protested sliding on the rough ground. Erik felt as if he was being squeezed to death when the men seated on the bench seat beside him were thrown against him, and then his arms were almost jerked out of their sockets when the glider spun ninety degrees before finally coming to a halt.

Erik was one of the last men out. He paused briefly at the starboard-side door and looked out. Barely fifty feet away he could see the main tower of the fortress’ keep. With his SMG held ready he jumped to the ground and hurried after the soldiers of the Stralsund Regiment’s “Black Company” making for the main entry to the keep.

A man in front of him fell to the ground and lay motionless. Erik paused long enough to check that he was dead before he hurried over to the dubious cover of the keep’s wall. The sappers blew in the portcullis and men charged through the opening and along the narrow passage to the inner courtyard.

In the inner courtyard Erik took cover while men of the Black Company sprayed a window with gunfire until a man fell through the window to land at their feet.

Erik turned to look at the massive tower they’d just passed under. He gestured to the men beside him and they lifted him onto the narrow timber walkway that led to the only door into the tower. He tried the door but it was locked. A sapper below him threw up a prepared explosive and Erik pressed it against the door before lighting the fuse and standing clear.

KA-BOOM!

Erik didn’t wait for the smoke to settle. He was through the shattered door in a flash, his SMG ready to deal death to anybody who got in his way.

He’d barely started up the first flight of stairs before two guards appeared on a landing above him and raised their rifles to their shoulders. Erik fired from the hip, cutting them down. He didn’t spare them a glance as he continued running.

He didn’t slow down until he was confronted by a heavy door on the top level. With his back against the stone wall he reached out with his left hand and opened the door.

Gunshots from inside the room peppered the door. At the first pause in the gunfire, Erik threw in a concussion grenade and ducked back behind the wall.

Ka-Boom!

The blast slammed the door against the frame and Erik had to kick it open before entering the room. He was confronted by two men stumbling around with their hands over their ears. He cut them down with a burst from his SMG before heading for the door at the end of the room.

He kicked the door open to reveal Lord Vadmel and the princess.

Lord Vadmel pulled the princess close to him. “We meet at last, Commander Zeetrell. Drop your gun or the princess dies.” He let Erik see the small pistol held against the princess’ head.

Erik dropped his SMG.

“Very good, Commander. Now kick it toward me.’

Erik did as he said.

Lord Vadmel threw the princess across the room and reached for the SMG. He started to bring it to bear on Erik, but Erik was already moving. He drew his pistol as he threw himself to one side and fired once before he hit the floor.

Erik rolled quickly to his feet. He kept his pistol aimed at Lord Vadmel as he approached the body. A nudge of his foot rolled the villain over. He’d been shot right through the middle of his forehead.

Satisfied, Erik turned to the object of this rescue mission. The princess was slumped against the wall where she’d been thrown. Erik gently picked her up and carried her out of the room.

****

The fortress was a hive of activity with sailors and black clad soldiers leading prisoners away and medics tended to the wounded. In the waters below the fortress a warship lay at anchor with numerous motorized landing boats ferrying men and equipment to and from the shore. Erik felt a soft hand on his shoulder. He turned and stared down at the princess while she put her arms around his neck. Erik dipped his mouth toward hers . . .

Magdeburg, Late September 1635

Colonel Axel Gustafsson Lillie felt a soft hand squeeze his and knew his wife was pleased. He’d invested heavily in “On His Majesty’s Secret Service” and he was nervous about how the movie would be received.

The lights started to come on and the audience finally started to react. There was loud applause when the actors and production staff mounted the stage, which turned into a deafening roar when the actors who played Erik Zeetrell and the princess stepped onto the stage.

Axel brought Christina’s hand to his mouth and gently kissed her fingers. “Shall we join them?”

Christina shook her head. “Let them enjoy the fruits of their labor while we escape.”

Axel was agreeable. He didn’t need the exposure, and standing around for hours on his artificial leg didn’t appeal. Besides, Christina was pregnant with their third child and she shouldn’t stand around too long herself. He held up a hand so his bodyguard, Sergeant Jon Joakimsson, could help him to his feet before both of them helped Christina out of her chair and they made their way out of the opera house. Axel and Christina walked arm in arm, with Sergeant Jon Joakimsson, of the village of Rambo in Gothenland, Sweden, walking a couple of steps behind.

Christina called over her shoulder. “You looked good in your scenes, Jon.”

Jon smiled. “Thank you, my lady.’

“But why did they call you Sergeant Rambo in the movie?”

Axel could see that Jon wasn’t going to explain, so he did. “It’s an up-timer thing. The movie’s producer was checking the regiment’s roll for possible extras and he came across Jon’s name. He’s recorded as Sergeant Jon Joakimsson Rambo and the producer felt it was a great joke having John J Rambo in the movie.”

“But what’s so funny about Jon’s name?” Christina asked.

“No need to take offence on my behalf, my lady. Sergeant John J. Rambo is another up-time movie hero, rather like James Bond.”

“But without the class,” Axel muttered loud enough for Jon and Christina to hear.

She jabbed him with an elbow and he gathered her closer, not entirely in self-defense. They walked the rest of the short distance to the Magdeburg Towers apartment block in friendly silence.

“How much of what we saw is make-believe?” Christina asked while they waited for the elevator.

“Most of it,” Jon muttered.

“Ignore Jon. He’s still deeply offended by some of the things the movie people insisted on doing for dramatic effect.”

“Oh? Like what?” Christina asked.

“Commander Zeetrell going in without a helmet or face camouflage . . . ” Jon said.

“Jabe McDougal explained that. The audience needs to be able to easily identify the hero at all times,” Axel said.

” . . . the explosions were nothing like the real thing. Men don’t fall out of high windows like that, and as for the scene where Commander Zeetrell shoots the villain . . . ” Jon left his words hanging.

Artistic license,” Axel said.

Jon snorted. “That’s not what you said when Gino Bianchi first described what he wanted to do.”

“What was wrong with that scene?” Christina asked. “I thought it was so romantic the way the hero dropped his rifle when the villain threatened the princess.”

Axel exchanged a knowing look with Jon and both men shook their heads. “It was romantic rubbish.”

Christina sniffed. “Well, what would you have done? Let the man kill the princess?”

“The princess is only any good as a hostage while she lives,” Axel said.

“So if someone held a gun to my head and told you to put down your gun . . . “

“I’d kill the . . . ” Axel throttled back on his language. Just the thought of that scenario scared him.

“But he has a gun against my head.”

Axel reached out and hugged his wife. “Unless he can easily escape, at some point the villain will realize he has to either shoot me or surrender.”

“Shoot you! That’s horrible. And then he’d get away, wouldn’t he?”

Axel nodded. “That’s why you don’t surrender your weapon to a hostage taker.”

“So what would you do?” Christina asked.

“Wait him out,” Axel said.

“And any female in that position would probably faint anyway,” Jon said.

Christina glared at Jon. “I wouldn’t faint.”

“Maybe you could fake it, love, because it leaves the villain vulnerable,” Axel explained.

“Why?” Christina asked. Then she smiled. “Oh! The villain would have to catch me.”

“Or let you fall. Either way, as soon as he stops holding a gun to your head, he’s dead.”

“Well, I don’t expect I’ll ever find my self in that kind of situation,” Christina said.

Doberan, Mecklenburg

Klaus von Bülow, of the now almost extinct Doberan branch of the mighty von Bülows, stood on the low rise and looked out to sea. He’d often shared the view with first his children and more recently, his granddaughter, but no more.

He turned to stare at the grave markers one last time. There was his wife’s. Beside her lay his eldest son and daughter-in-law. Then there were the graves of his grandchildren. Joachim Vollrad, the baby and heir, and three year old Anna Sophie.

Klaus heard someone walk up beside him. “Is it done?” he asked without turning.

“Please reconsider, Your Excellency,” Georg Mevius pleaded. “Not everyone in the village was responsible. Show some mercy for the innocent.”

Klaus turned and glared at his man of business. “Mercy? Like they showed Anna Sophie? You saw what they did to her body? What kind of animals would do that to a sweet innocent three year old? What of Rutgers, has he returned?”

Georg nodded. “He’s back aboard the Anna Sophie.”

Klaus pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. There were three hours to go before sunset. “Then let us depart this blighted place.”

Back on his private yacht Klaus walked over to the man slowly shedding his peasant costume. “All is in place?”

Johannes Rutgers cleaned the mud off his face before nodding. “And I bring news of Christoph Brockmann. He and some of his men will be in Magdeburg for the fourth anniversary celebrations of the forming of the Committees of Correspondence.”

Klaus snarled and spat over the side at the mention of the man he held responsible for the death of his family and the destruction of his estate. “Your information is good?”

“The village CoC representative spoke openly of the event and how Christoph will be there with his CoC fighters,” Johannes said.

“When are these celebrations?”

“The second week in October.”

“After we have dealt with the murderers of Doberan, we will head for Magdeburg to deal with Christoph Brockmann and his men. For now I wish to rest. See that I am woken before midnight.”

****

“Who is Christoph Brockmann?” Georg asked.

“The man Herr von Bülow holds responsible for all that has befallen him, especially his granddaughter’s death. Without Christoph and his CoC fighters we could have held the peasants off long enough to safely evacuate everybody. Instead . . . ” Johannes gestured toward the burnt-out house and estate buildings.

Midnight

Klaus stood on the deck of the Anna Sophie staring at the distant land where the village of Doberan slept. He held up his pocket-watch and tried to read the time in the poor light. “Rutgers, it is past midnight and nothing has happened.”

Johannes Rutgers rushed over to his employer. “The man is reliable, My Lord. Maybe the timer is slow.”

“If the charge doesn’t go off I’ll have him dragged behind the . . . “

Suddenly the night sky was lit up. Seconds later there was an almighty KAA-BOOM! Klaus smiled and patted the gunwale of the Anna Sophie. He mumbled, almost to himself, “Rest easier now, little one. The people who hurt you have started to pay.”

“What caused so big an explosion?” Georg asked.

“We placed a wagon loaded with gunpowder behind the millhouse,” Johannes answered.

Magdeburg, the first week of October

Jon Joakimsson woke when he felt the prostitute he’d hired for the evening move. He watched her disappear through a door without touching his processions. Well, he thought, he had been told the establishment was “safe.” Less than a minute after the prostitute’s departure a servant entered with a steaming jug and a lit lamp. She stood watching Jon until he showed signs of getting out of bed. Jon had no difficulty understanding her silent message. His time was up. Please wash and dress and leave so they could prepare the room for the next client. Jon rolled out of the warm bed and headed for the jug of hot water on the dresser for a quick wash before dressing.

He pulled on the dark blue, almost black, combat trousers, shirt, and combat jacket that had been a perk of appearing in the movie before pulling on his new boots. They hadn’t been provided as a perk, but the money he’d earned had paid for them. They were handmade Calagna and Bauer combat boots with the new rubber soles, and they’d cost a small fortune, but Jon felt they were worth every thaler.

He stood in front of the mirror and patted his pockets. All he felt was a key and a piece of paper. For a moment he panicked, but then he remembered that the brothel had insisted that all weapons and money should be lodged in a safe-keeping box and left at reception. He fully accepted the reasoning about the weapons, but he hadn’t been happy about leaving his purse. If the establishment hadn’t come highly recommended he’d have left then and there. He pulled on a woolen hat and put on his overcoat before leaving the room.

Downstairs a woman was manning reception. She put a heavy box on the counter and waited for Jon to open the lock with the key he’d been given. “Could I see your receipt, please.”

Jon handed over the receipt he’d received when he emptied his pockets of weapons and valuables and while the receptionist ticked off the items he pulled out his knives and put them into the sheaves on his belt. Then he picked up the pistol. He checked it was empty and checked the two magazines that he’d put in the box. Happy that they were as they should be he inserted one magazine and cocked the action. He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and concentrated on the receptionist. She had a hand under the counter. He looked from her face to the pistol in his hand. He smiled as he slid the pistol into its holster. “What are you pointing at me?” he asked conversationally.

“Short-barrel scatter gun loaded with two ounces of birdshot,” she answered in the same tone.

“Messy?” Jon asked.

“Messy enough.” She gestured with her head toward the wall behind him.

Jon walked over to the wall and felt the pockmarked surface of the wood. “You have to replace this often?” he asked, pointing to the wall.

“Not lately. Word gets around. It’s been six months since we last had any trouble. Now, if you’d like to check the contents of your purse and sign that it matches what you had?”

Jon counted his money and signed off on the receipt.

“Thank you. I hope you had a pleasant evening.”

“Very pleasant, thank you.” Jon gave the woman a casual salute and walked toward the door. He paused before leaving to button up his coat and tighten the belt, and to close his eyes to give them a chance to adapt to the night waiting outside.

Outside the alleyway was poorly illuminated. The only real sources of light were the red shaded gaslights above the doors of the more reputable brothels, as this late at night, or more correctly, this early in the morning, most of the street lighting was shut down. Convinced that at any moment someone was going to leap out of the shadows (this was the big bad city after all) Jon worked his way from shadow to shadow toward Magdeburg Towers.

Ten minutes into his journey a door opened just ahead of him and in the flash of light Jon thought he recognized someone. The face was definitely familiar, and with unpleasant connections, but he couldn’t place it. He waited until the man was a good distance down the street before approaching the address he’d been visiting. He committed the street number to memory and then set out in pursuit of the man he thought he recognized.

At the first intersection he took time to note the street’s name. Five minutes later the man he was following disappeared into a boarding house. Jon stared at the closed door for a while, but he still couldn’t place the face. With the man’s name still escaping him, Jon scanned the skyline for the silhouettes of Magdeburg Towers and the soon-to-be completed Karickhoff’s Hotel. They were easily the tallest structures in the Neustadt and he found them easily. With the buildings to guide him, he slowly made his way home.

Second Week in October

Christoph Brockmann walked into the Magdeburg Freedom Arches with his arm linked through his wife’s. He was met by a harried looking employee of the restaurant. “Christoph Brockmann, Brockmann party,” he informed the young man.

“Your guests are waiting for you, Herr Brockmann. If you and your good wife would like to follow me.” The man set off up a flight of stairs.

Christoph glanced down at his wife and they exchanged smiles. This wasn’t the normal level of service one expected at the Freedom Arches, but tonight was likely to be very busy. They hurried to catch up.

They were guided into a sitting room where several of their guests were waiting. “Sorry we’re late, but the babysitter delayed us,” Christoph apologized to his second in command, who had taken over the duties of host in his absence.

“At least you’re here at last and we can start eating,” Daniel Hardenack said.

Five minutes later Christoph and his guests were seated around the table with waiting staff putting out food. He waited until they left before starting the round of toasts. Eventually the round reached his wife.

“To the good ladies of the first Committee of Correspondence,” Anna proposed.

Christoph blinked. He glanced at his wife to check that she was seriously proposing a toast to a pack of prostitutes. Her clear eyes twinkled at him. Yes, they said, she was serious. He shrugged and raised his glass. “To the good ladies of the first Committee of . . . “

KAAAAAAAA-BOOOOOOOM!

****

Across town, in the penthouse of Magdeburg Towers, the windows rattled from the blast and Axel Lillie spilled part of his drink. While he mopped up the spill, he looked across the table to his host.

Ron Chapman shook his head. “That wasn’t normal.” He put down his knife and fork, pushed his chair back and stood. “I’m just going out on the deck to have a look.”

“I’ll join you.”

Ron picked up a pair of binoculars before they walked out onto the penthouse patio. From that vantage point, seven stories above the ground, Axel had a clear view south over the Altstadt of Magdeburg. The probable site of the explosion was easy to see with flames billowing into the sky.

“It looks like the fire is near the Freedom Arches,” Ron reported.

Axel squinted while he tried to focus on the distant scene. He felt something being pushed at his hand. Ron’s young wife had brought out a second pair of binoculars. He thanked her and raised them to his eyes. Immediately the scene leapt closer. “Where is the Freedom Arches?’

“It should be three in from the corner, but . . . ” Ron lapsed into silence.

Axel stared at the horror before him. Most of the commercial block appeared to be burning. Even buildings across the road from the Freedom Arches were on fire. “What could have caused the explosion?”

“It could be a gas explosion,” Ron suggested.

“Is there anything we can do?” Axel asked.

“No,” Ron said.

Axel lowered his binoculars. Ron had his arms wrapped around his wife, Christine. Axel became aware of an arm around his waist and he reached out to hold his Christina. Together they stood watching the flames, their dinner forgotten.

****

Jon Joakimsson stepped out the door of the specialty restaurant “The American Kitchen” still licking his lips. He turned to speak to his dining companion, Nils Persson, an old army buddy.

KAAAAAAAA-BOOOOOOOM!

Jon felt rather than heard the blast, it was so powerful. A quick glance around showed a red glow in the night sky. He and Nils stared at each other for a moment before running off in the direction of all the commotion.

Jon almost lost the very good dinner he’d just finished when he first saw the scene of the blast. Where once there had been buildings there was now just rubble being consumed by fire. Jon sniffed the air. “What caused the explosion?” he asked.

Nils Persson shrugged. “No idea. It could be the gas, or maybe something ignited the flour in the restaurant.”

Jon sniffed again. He shook his head. “I don’t think it was flour. It doesn’t smell right.”

“Then it must have been the gas. Come on, there are people here who need our help.”

Next day

Axel stared at the photographs of the burnt-out remains of the block of the city and the aerial photos taken before and after the fire. He read the column beside it and could only nod in agreement at its conclusions. He glanced over to Jon and Ron, who were looking at their own papers. “This paper says that an unnamed up-time expert who has analyzed their photos believes that there is clear evidence of a massive explosion centered in the cellar near the rear of the Freedom Arches, and that the location of the center of the blast is inconsistent with a gas explosion. When pressed for further information, the up-timer declined to answer.”

“That’ll probably be Carl they’re talking about. I wonder what he’s not saying,” Ron said.

“Who’s Carl?” Axel asked.

“Carl Schockley. He’s with Kelly Construction, and back up-time he had something to do with explosives in the army. If he says it wasn’t a gas explosion then I believe him.”

“Bornholm! That’s it,” Jon suddenly shouted.

“What’s it?” Axel asked.

“The other night I saw a familiar face, but I couldn’t place it until Herr Chapman mentioned explosives. Now I can . . . but what is Mad Mads doing in Magdeburg?”

“Who?” Ron asked.

“Mads Bendtsen, sometimes known as ‘The Mad Bomber,'” Axel answered. “We ran into some of his handiwork in Bornholm last year.” He turned to Jon. “Do you think he might have something to do with the destruction of the Freedom Arches?”

“He knows enough to do it, but who hates the Freedom Arches enough to pay him to destroy the restaurant?” Jon asked.

The men stared at each other. None of them had an answer to that question.

“The only way to find out what Mads is doing in Magdeburg is to ask him.” Axel glanced over to Jon. “Do you know where he lives?”

Jon nodded. “I followed him to a boarding house while I was wondering who he was.”

“Hey, guys. This is really a problem for the authorities. Why don’t we wander over to the Rathus and talk to Otto Gericke?” Ron asked.

“You’re on first name terms with the Bürgermeister?” Axel asked.

“What can I say? Rebuilding Magdeburg needs a lot of cement, and we make a lot of cement at Magdeburg Concrete. Otto’s also in charge of rebuilding the city and he’s been one of our best customers.”

“That’s nice to know,” Axel said, “but we know Mads. He’s more likely to provide answers if we ask, isn’t that right, Jon?”

Jon flexed his fingers. “Yes.”

“Just a minute Axel. They don’t approve of using torture to gain information in Magdeburg anymore,” Ron said.

“Don’t worry. Jon won’t leave a mark.”

“Well, be careful. This guy might be dangerous.”

“He’s quite harmless, Ron,” Axel said.

“I’d hardly call someone who might just have killed a couple of hundred people harmless.”

Axel smiled. “Your Christine could probably beat him in a fight.”

****

Jon squinted through the keyhole of the door into Mads’ room. Across the room he could see Mads concentrating on something laid out on the bed.

“Well?”

Jon scowled at Axel for the interruption. “He’s sitting on the bed doing something, and he’s left the key in the lock.”

“Can you open the door without alerting him?”

Jon reached under his coat for his tools and got to work. There was a slight noise when the key dropped onto the piece of parchment he’d slid under the door, but Mads didn’t seem to notice. Jon smiled. He’d been counting on all the explosions Mads loved so much damaging his hearing. It seemed that they had.

He pulled the parchment back and triumphantly held up the key. “Like taking candy from a baby.”

Axel sighed audibly. “Just get on with it,” he whispered.

Jon quietly unlocked the door and pushed it open. He and Axel were able to sneak in without Mads noticing. Jon shut the door quietly and walked over to Mads, his rubber soled boots barely making a sound. He reached out and laid his hand firmly on Mads’ shoulder. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Mads Bendtsen jerked violently under Jon’s hand. He turned to see who was holding onto him. “Who the . . . ”

“Hello, Mads,” Axel said.

“How did you get into my room?” Mads demanded. “I must insist that you leave immediately.”

Jon noticed something had floated onto the floor. Still gripping Mads’ shoulder he bent down to pick it up.”

“That’s mine, give it to me,” Mads cried out.

Jon held Mads at arm's length while he examined his find. It was a Johnnie, one of the USE twenty-dollar bills. The last time he’d come across Johnnies in the hands of dubious people—and people didn’t get much more dubious than Mads—they’d turned out to be forgeries. He passed the bill to Axel who, after a brief moment of surprise, pulled out a jeweler’s glass and examined it closely.

“I do hope you weren’t intending using any of these, Mads,” Axel said.

“Why not? They accept paper dollars here in Magdeburg, you know.”

“True, but they don’t usually accept forgeries.”

Mads stared at Axel in disbelief. He snatched the Johnnie back and the jeweler’s glass Axel held out to him. “How can you tell?” he demanded.

Axel pulled out his wallet and extracted a Johnnie. He pointed to the fine work around the portrait. “Compare this area. The fine detail on your bill isn’t as clear.”

Mads looked at the bill in Axel’s hand, then the one in his hand, his face paled and he dropped that bill to one side and turned to the bills he had spread out on his bed. He hastily grabbed one and looked at it under the glass. After a quick examination he tossed it to one side and picked up another.

Jon watched the panic develop as Mads worked through the bills on his bed. “Where did you get those bills, Mads?”

“He paid me with worthless paper. What am I going to do? They’ll kill me if I can’t pay them.” Mads slid onto the floor and buried his head in his hands.

Jon didn’t have to ask who Mads was talking about. He already knew. Nils had recognized the address he’d seen Mads leaving. It was one of the worst gaming hells in Magdeburg. He picked Mads up and placed him gently on the bed and placed a chair so Axel could sit facing him.

Axel smiled sympathetically at Mads. “Maybe we can work a deal. How much do you owe?”

“Twenty thousand dollars!” Mads sounded desperate.

“Two hundred thaler? We can afford that, can’t we Jon?”

Jon sent Axel a pretend glare before returning to stare straight into Mads’ eyes. “Why send good money after bad? I’m sure I can persuade him to talk.” He struggled to hold back a smile when Mads tried to disappear into the wall behind him.

“Now that’s not nice, Jon. Mads here is only too willing to tell us who paid him and what he was paid to do . . . aren’t you? It’s not like you owe your paymaster any loyalty.”

Mads nodded, and then it all burst out. “Klaus von Bülow. He paid me to build a bomb to blow up the village near his home in Doberan.”

“Nice try, Mads, but that doesn’t explain what you’re doing in Magdeburg,” Jon said.

“I wanted a change of scene and . . . “

“You’re lying.” Jon grabbed Mads’ jacket and shook him vigorously. “You blew up the Freedom Arches.”

“No, I didn’t,” Mads wailed.

“You’re lying, Mads. The Freedom Arches bombing has your mark all over it.” Jon paused to glance at Axel for permission to continue. “Right now, me and the colonel are your only friends. Just think of what might happen if the CoC heard that you were responsible.”

Mads’ face turned pasty white. “They’d . . . “

“Me and the colonel, we can get you safely out of Magdeburg . . . “

” . . . but only if you’re honest with us,” Axel finished Jon’s sentence. “Now, tell me, who paid you to bomb the Freedom Arches?”

“Klaus von Bülow, from Doberan, in Mecklenburg.”

“And he paid you with the forged bank bills on your bed?” Axel asked.

Mads nodded.

“Do know why Herr von Bülow wanted the Freedom Arches destroyed?” Axel asked.

Mads shook his head. “He didn’t say.”

“And of course, you didn’t ask,” Jon said sarcastically.

“Easy, Jon. Now, Mads, Jon and I know about you, but how did Herr von Bülow discover your talents?”

Mads looked up at Axel. “The Lensmand. Herr von Bülow came to Bornholm and the Lensmand told me to work for him.”

“Lord Holger Rosenkrantz of Glimminge, Lensmand of Hammershus Len?” Axel asked.

Mads nodded. “He made me do it.”

This was an interesting development, Jon thought. They’d first run into Lord Holger Rosenkrantz when the regiment was part of a force tasked with invading the island of Bornholm. The defense had been stouter than expected, given the low esteem with which the Lensmand was held, and the defenders had prevailed. Later he’d been their host when the Hammershus, one of the largest fortresses ever built in Europe, was used as the villain’s stronghold in the movie “On His Majesty’s Secret Service.”

“You’d better pack your things and come with us, Mads. We’ll work out where to send you later,” Axel said.

Jon had been thinking. “Would Viktor be interested?” Jon asked.

“Who’s Viktor?” Mads asked.

“He is an arms dealer. And yes, Jon, I’m sure he’d be interested in adding an explosives expert to his organization,” Axel said.

“Viktor has a reputation for looking after his own, Mads. If you work for Viktor, people will leave you alone,” Jon said.

“I’ll be safe?” Mads asked.

“As long as you don’t let Viktor down.” Jon smiled. “And you really don’t want to let Viktor down.”

Mads sent Jon one last terrified look before he started to put together his possessions.

The Vulgar Unicorn, Stralsund, Mid October

Lieutenant Colonel Erik Wachtmeister entered the Vulgar Unicorn, approached the barman and passed him his calling card. “I’d like to speak to Viktor, if he’s in.”

The barman looked from Erik to his card and rang a bell. A young maid appeared. “See if Herr Viktor wishes to speak to this gentleman.” He passed the card to the woman and she hurried up a staircase. She returned a few minutes later and gestured for Erik to follow.

Erik followed the maid to a private apartment above the regular rooms. Once inside the apartment he easily put names to the men and woman he found waiting for him. They were Viktor, no known patronym or surname, and his partner Boris, also with no known patronym or surname. The young woman was Tat’yana. A peculiar name for a woman with a French accent. She also had no known patronym or surname. She was also a full partner with Viktor and Boris. Erik knew that anything he said to one of them might as well be said to all of them, so he didn’t bother suggesting that he only wanted to speak to Viktor.

Viktor lounged in a padded chair. “Take a seat, Colonel. You wanted to see me?”

Erik sat opposite Viktor. “Yes, as you know Colonel Lillie and his wife are in Magdeburg . . . “

“How did the premiere go?” Tat’yana asked.

Erik was momentarily distracted. He’d forgotten for a moment that Viktor and his people had contributed to the movie and might be interested in how it had been received. “They had a full house and the movie received a standing ovation,” Erik answered. “But that’s not why I’m here. You’ve heard about the destruction of the Magdeburg Freedom Arches?” As the story had been front page news it was a good bet that they had. “Well, the colonel has the man who built the bomb in protective custody.”

“Why would your colonel want to protect the man? Throw him onto the mercy of the people of Magdeburg and be done with it,” Viktor said.

Erik shook his head. “The bomb maker is small fry. The person we’re really interested in is whoever paid him.”

“If the CoC ever learn your bomber’s name . . . ” Boris said.

“Which is why Colonel Lillie hasn’t told anybody who he is,” Erik said. “Even I don’t know his name.”

“Why’re you so interested in the man who ordered the bombing?” Tat’yana asked. “The destruction of the Magdeburg Freedom Arches has nothing to do with you.”

“That’s true, and the colonel would happily have left the Magdeburg authorities to deal with their own problem, except for one thing. The bomber was paid with forged Johnnies.” Erik was pleased to see the reaction to that little bombshell. Viktor and his people had only recently helped break a forgery ring operating here in Stralsund.

“How much?” Tat’yana asked.

“A neat fifty thousand dollars worth. Colonel Lillie says it was payment for building two bombs,” Erik said.

“Two? Where’s the other one?” Viktor demanded.

“It’s already been used, to destroy the village of Doberan.”

“Doberan? Why does that sound familiar?” Viktor asked his partners.

Tat’yana supplied the answer. “Doberan’s where we sold weapons to Klaus von Bülow back in June.”

Erik’s interest was piqued. That was interesting news. Not that Viktor had sold weapons to someone to use against the CoC fighters. That was neither here nor there, as far as Erik was concerned. No, what was interesting was who they’d done business with. He coughed gently to clear his throat, as he wasn’t sure how Viktor would take the news he was about to get. “Actually, Viktor, the bomb maker has identified the man who paid him as Klaus von Bülow.”

Boris stared at Erik. “I don’t suppose there’s more than one Klaus von Bülow?”

“There are probably dozens of them, but not based around Doberan,” Erik replied.

“He paid us with Johnnies,” Viktor said with a vicious edge to his voice.

“Yes, well, that’s all in the past,” Erik said hastily. One thing he didn’t want was Viktor hell bent on revenge chasing down von Bülow. He might kill the man before they could discover who was behind the forgeries. “Right now Colonel Lillie wants to know if you have a safe place in your organization for his guest.”

“This man blew up the Freedom Arches?” Viktor asked.

“He made the bomb,” Erik corrected.

“Details,” Viktor snorted and waved the correction off as a trifling detail. “And he is not wanted by the authorities?”

“The colonel has obtained approval for his actions to date. So, no, the bomber is not wanted by the authorities,” Erik said.

Viktor smiled. “If the authorities aren’t after him, I might be interested in your bomber. But what’s in it for us?”

“The undying gratitude of the colonel,” Erik suggested tongue in cheek.

“That and five dollars will buy you a cup of coffee,” Tat’yana quipped.

Erik took a moment to work out what exactly she meant. “I’ll have to remember that one next time someone tries to offer me anything that is fundamentally worthless.”

“Feel free. Johann says the Americans use the phrase all the time. But you still haven’t told us what’s in it for us,” Tat’yana said.

“The colonel says he could use his influence to get you an aircraft.”

Viktor whistled. “For the promise of Colonel Lillie’s help procuring an aircraft, I’m sure we can find a place for your man.”

“Somehow, I thought you could.”

Stralsund, late November

Colonel Axel Lillie sat at his desk massaging his stump while he stared at the papers littering his desk. It was covered with reported sightings of Klaus von Bülow. Where was the man? He couldn’t have just disappeared.

There was a tap on the door and a very bedraggled Lieutenant Colonel Erik Wachtmeister stumbled in with what looked like a wrapped rifle in one hand and a small drawstring purse in the other. “We almost got him.”

“You’re sure it was von Bülow?”

Erik nodded. “He was purchasing supplies when we disturbed him. He was paying with forged Johnnies.” Erik tossed the purse onto Axel’s desk.

Axel pulled a bundle of bank bills from the bag and reached for his jeweler’s glass. After a short examination, he nodded. “Unless there are two people spending forged Johnnies like water, you’re right. How did he get away?”

“They outgunned us. He only had a handful of men, but they had breech loaders. I lost two good men trying to stop him escaping on his yacht.”

“Did you call for air support to follow the yacht?” Axel asked.

“The USE Air Force had nothing available,” Erik answered.

Axel silently cursed the lack of a Swedish air force as he walked over to the map on the opposite wall. He selected a red pin from the edge of the map board and marked the small market near Reinberg where Erik had spotted Klaus. He stepped back and looked at the map. “There’s no pattern to any of the confirmed sightings,” he said.

“They’re all near the coast.”

“But there’s a lot of coast. Where’s he hiding?” Axel stared at the map for a while before returning to his desk. “Breech loaders, you say?”

“Yes, Colonel.” Erik unwrapped the rifle he’d been carrying and passed it to Axel.

“A Cardinal?” Axel murmured before examining it closely. “No, it’s got a Suhl proof mark. That makes it a Sharps clone. Now where would von Bülow get Sharps clones?” A memory slowly surfaced.

Erik beat him to it. “Viktor! Remember he said he sold von Bülow some weapons. It stands to reason he’s probably the source of the Sharps.”

Axel nodded. “Well, I’m not going to risk my men chasing a pack of outlaws who outgun them. Send a messenger to Viktor. Tell him we want to see some of his special stock.”

Erik straightened. “Immediately, Colonel.”

****

Axel was still quietly fuming at his second in command and Sergeant Jon Joakimsson as they walked to where Viktor and his team were arranging weapons on a bench. “There was no need for you to dress up as if you were refugees from a movie set.”

Erik Wachtmeister brushed a hand down the black uniform he was wearing. “We thought it would be fitting, Colonel.”

“Fitting? How can dressing like extras in a movie be fitting?” Axel demanded.

“Surely if we are buying special weapons then the men entrusted with them should have a special identity?”

“And you think dressing up like the ‘Black Company’ is special?”

Erik nodded. “Of course. Besides, we already have the uniforms. Think of the savings, and if we’re buying some of Viktor’s special stock we’ll have to watch every thaler. I wonder what he has to show us.”

Axel abandoned the argument and stalked off to greet Viktor.

“You intend forming your own Black Company?” Viktor asked. “That is most fitting.”

Axel shook his head. “I have no intention of starting my own ‘Black Company,’ Viktor. What you see is just Lieutenant Colonel Wachtmeister and Sergeant Jon Joakimsson playing silly games.

“Of course you don’t.” Viktor grinned and waved Axel toward the range safety area. “If you and your companions will collect a pair of ear defenders from Tat’yana, Johann will lead the demonstration of what we have for you today.”

Axel recognized Johann Hering as the NCO he’d unfortunately been forced to dismiss for political reasons earlier in the year. It was nice to know the man was serving Viktor well.

Johann gestured for everyone to gather around. “First things first.” He picked up a forest green camouflaged flak jacket from the table and started to put it on. “Protection,” he announced. “If you’re going against von Bülow, you’re going against serious firepower, and you’re going to need body armor.” Johann put on a pair of plastic eye protectors and his ear defenders and moved to stand beside the target. Boris picked up the revolver Johann had left on the bench and fired three shots at him.

Axel slowly uncovered his ears. He wasn’t sure he believed what he was seeing. All three shots had hit within inches of Johann’s heart, but he continued to stand. “That was amazing.”

Johann removed the flak jacket and passed it to Axel. “It’ll need the front panel and trauma plate replaced, but the central region on the back and front where the trauma plates are will protect you from anything short of a direct hit from an up-time rifle, while the layered silk alone will stop most up-time pistol cartridges.”

Axel examined the damage to the flak jacket before passing it to Erik. “Very impressive. What else do you have?”

Johann led Axel along the bench. “SMG’s just like you used in the movie, except these fire real bullets; the new H&K ‘Marine’ eight-shot revolver; and for longer range action we have Sharps clones with telescopic sights that can pick off a man at six hundred paces.” Johann picked up the last weapon on the bench. “And last but not least, we also have cap-lock conversion kits for the standard service rifled muskets as well, if you’re interested.”

“Oh, I’m interested all right. I’m interested in everything you have, so let’s put them through their paces so I can see if they’re worth what they’re all going to cost me,” Axel said.

January, Stockholm

Axel stood watching the courier ship being loaded for the trip back to Stralsund. His arm drifted around his wife. “This is your last chance to change your mind.”

Christina Ottosdotter Morner patted her bulge. “I’m leaving with you. I have no intention of wintering over in Stockholm while you’re nice and comfortable in Stralsund.”

Axel bit down on his lip. He wanted to get back to Stralsund as well. In his last communication Erik Wachtmeister had indicated that he had tracked Klaus von Bülow to a von Bülow estate near the fishing village of Klausdorf and was proposing to raid it. By now that raid would have been carried out.

“Did the army say if you were going to keep command of the Stralsund regiment?” Christina asked.

“Not yet. They just wanted a complete report on what we’ve been doing lately,” Axel said.

“Well they should let you keep the regiment. You’ve worked so hard to train the men.”

“The army doesn’t work like that, Christina.”

“Well it should.”

Axel grinned at his wife. “Come on, I can see Jon waiting for us on deck.”

“He looks good in black. It was a good idea of yours to dress your bodyguard that way.”

Axel snorted. “That wasn’t my idea.”

****

Axel was concerned for Christina. The seas were rough and she’d had been badly hit by sea sickness. Both the nursemaid hired to care for the children and the EMT-trained member of his bodyguard team were concerned for her health. He made his way on deck and headed for the captain of the ship. “What’s our nearest landfall?”

The captain stared into the distance and pointed. “That’s Bornholm about ten miles distant. There’s a sheltered bay where we can ride out this squall.”

“Sandvig?” Axel asked.

The captain stared at Axel with some surprise. “You know the area?”

“I’ve been there before,” Axel said, thinking of the farcical invasion of the island the previous year.

“You were there with the Black Company,” the captain said. “I thought I recognized the black uniforms and those newfangled rifles.”

Axel decided not to contradict the captain and tell him there was no such thing as the Black Company. Resigned to the false perceptions of the public, he just nodded.

Hammershus, Bornholm

Klaus von Bülow listened to the soldier’s report with horror. “A detachment of the Black Company has landed at Sandvig? How did they trace me here?”

Lensmand of Hammershus Len, Lord Holger Rosenkrantz of Glimminge, laid a hand on Klaus’ shoulder. “Easy, Klaus, I told you, the Black Company is just a figment of some scriptwriter’s imagination.”

Klaus shrugged off Holger’s hand. “The men who almost trapped me at Klausdorf were not imaginary. I lost three men to those black-clad fiends.”

“Coincidence,” Holger said. “The Swedish regiment in Stralsund supplied the extras for the movie that was shot here. No doubt some of them have nothing better to wear than the uniforms they were given after the completion of filming.”

“And the Black Company soldiers landing at Sandvig?” Klaus asked.

“The commander of the regiment was returning from Stockholm with his family and they have landed to get medical attention for his sick wife.” Holger repeated what the soldier had reported.

Klaus swallowed. He very much wanted to believe Holger, but Klausdorf had been too close. He needed to get away from the cursed men in black. He left Holger to look for the leader of his bodyguards.

“Johannes, we need to move again. The Black Company has landed in Sandvig.”

“I heard,” Johannes Rutgers said. “It will take time to ready the Anna Sophie.”

“Then we must create time. The commander of the Black Company has his wife with him. You will grab her for use as a hostage. As long as we hold her, Commander Zeetrell won’t attack.”

Klaus couldn’t understand the look on Johannes face. Not that it mattered. He was an employee and would do as he was told. “Well, don’t just stand there. Go and get the woman.”

Klaus watched Johannes and four men ride out of the inner courtyard. Happy that all was in hand he retired to his chamber to supervise the packing of his things.

****

The first Axel knew that anything was wrong was the sound of screams and the pounding of hooves.

“The mistress, they took the mistress,” the nursemaid screamed.

Axel shook the young woman. “Who? Who took Christina?”

“Five men. They took the mistress and carried her off,” the near hysterical nursemaid wailed.

“What’s happening?” Mogens Lauridsen asked as he arrived with Sergeant Jon Joakimsson close behind.

“Five horsemen have carried off Christina,” Axel told him.

“I saw some horsemen heading for the Hammershus. I bet it was them,” Mogens said.

“Why would Lord Holger take Christina?” Axel demanded.

“He might not know anything about it. Those men looked like some of his guest’s retainers,” Mogens said.

“Who is the guest?” Jon Joakimsson asked.

Mogens turned to Jon. “You wouldn’t know him. He’s some refugee noble from Mecklenburg.”

Axel was rapidly connecting the dots. Hadn’t Mads Bendtsen said Lord Holger had recommended him to von Bülow? “Is it Klaus von Bülow?”

“Oh, you do know him,” Mogens said. “He’s got seven retainers under the command of an ex-mercenary named Johannes Rutgers with him.”

“Do you have horses for me and my men?” Axel asked.

“No horses, but I can round up enough ponies to carry you. Are you thinking of pursuing them?”

“Of course I am. Will the garrison at the Hammershus try to stop us?”

Mogens shook his head. “Not if I come with you. I have a brother who is a sergeant in the guard and my son Anders should be on gate duty. And besides, none of the garrison like the Lensmand’s guests.”

“Right, you round up the ponies while we get ready. Sergeant, order the men to arm themselves.”

Axel didn’t wait for Mogens to run off before he was opening his campaign chest and pulling out weapons. He was dropping a handful of loaded half-moon clips into a belt pocket when Jon tossed him a flak jacket.

“Better put that on, Colonel. Your lady wife would never forgive me if anything happened to you.”

Someone had neatly sewn a black cover over the forest green flak jacket. Axel looked up to see Jon’s jacket had been subject to the same treatment. With the black flak jacket over his black uniform he looked exactly like he had in the movie. Axel shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to do or say anything. When Christina was safe would be soon enough to give Jon the tongue lashing he deserved. He checked the flak jacket was on firmly and holstered his revolver. “Right, let’s get dangerous.”

Mogens and seven black clad members of Axel’s bodyguard struggled to keep up as Axel rode his pony the mile and a half to the Hammershus. They caught up when he slowed at the first gatehouse.

Mogens rode forward. “The colonel is here to rescue his lady wife from the scoundrels from Mecklenburg,” he explained to the soldiers at the gate. “Let us pass.”

“Right, Papa. And I’ll signal the main gate to let you through.” Anders Mogensen turned to the men manning the gate. “Let them pass.”

****

True to his word Anders Mogensen had signaled ahead and they were let into first the outer courtyard and then the inner courtyard. Axel was riding up the slope toward the keep of the Hammershus when he heard a gunshot. He looked up, but there were no open windows or anything to suggest he or his men were the targets. He was met at the gate by members of the garrison.

“What’s happening,” the sergeant of the guard demanded.

“Von Bülow’s men kidnapped the colonel’s wife,” Mogens said as he dismounted and handed his pony’s reins to a soldier. “Well, don’t just stand there, little brother. Show the colonel and his men in.”

Sergeant Knud Lauridsen turned and led the way under the keep, past the unmanned murder holes and into the inner courtyard. He would have led the way into the tower, but three black-clad men pushed past him.

Axel followed his men into the first level and was met by the sight of men and women standing with their hands held high under the threat of his bodyguards’ guns. “Who was shooting?” he demanded.

One man volunteered an answer. “Von Bülow has gone mad. He killed the Lensmand when Lord Holger tried to free the lady he had captured.”

Axel looked across the room. Lars Andersson, the EMT medic of his bodyguard, was checking the body for signs of life. “Lars,” he called.

Lars shook his head. “He died quickly, Colonel.”

Axel turned back to the talkative civilian. “Where is von Bülow now?” Axel demanded.

“He’s headed for the top of the tower. He claims there is a secret passage that will allow him to escape,” Georg Mevius said.

Axel ordered three men to guard the entry to the tower, drew his revolver and started up the stairs. For a few seconds he led the way, but then the rest of his bodyguard surged past him with their SMGs held ready.

Two armed men appeared at the railings above only to be cut down by bursts from Axel’s men. When he stepped over them Axel saw and recognized the Sharps clones they’d been carrying. That meant von Bülow was down two men.

Axel and his men slowed down as they climbed. There had only been five men involved in Christina’s kidnapping, but that didn’t mean von Bülow was down to three men. Axel cursed that he hadn’t asked how many men had followed von Bülow up the stairs.

A shot rang out from a doorway and one of his men stumbled. Three SMG’s erupted in fire and tore the door to shreds. A man with a rifle fell through the doorway and lay still. Axel paused to check his man who’d fallen, but Mats Olsson waved him on. The shot had missed the trauma plate, but had still failed to penetrate his flak jacket.

Axel left Lars Andersson treating Mats Olsson and followed his men up the next flight of stairs. He was a couple of steps behind them when shots rang out from rooms on the next landing. Sergeant Jon Joakimsson replied with controlled bursts from his SMG, but Olof Borjesson remained slumped on the stairway.

The doorway the enemy had been shooting from was the entry to an antechamber which was the only access to the last staircase that led to the chamber at the top of the tower. Jon charged toward the room, shooting single shots from the hip as he ran. Axel tried his best to keep up, but Jon was into the antechamber before him. Axel stopped at the door and looked in. Jon had tripped over a body by the door and was just getting to his knees when Axel saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. He swung round. A man was behind a sofa and trying to aim a rifle at him. Axel fired two rapid shots into the sofa where the man’s chest should be. The rifle slipped from his hands and the man fell out of sight.

Axel stepped into the room, his revolver held out in front of him in a double handed grip. There was a sound behind another sofa and Axel instinctively fired two shots at it. A cat tore out from behind the sofa and ran past Axel and out the door.

Axel lowered his revolver and he looked around the chamber. It was much the same as it’d been when they made the movie. He climbed the last flight of stairs with his back to the wall and his revolver held out in front of him, ready to fire, with Jon following him.

Axel let Jon kick open the door, but he was first in. He stopped in the doorway and took in the scene at a glance. There were two men and Christina. Klaus von Bülow held Christina and appeared stunned by his violent entry. The other man reacted faster. He almost had his pistol free of his belt when Axel shot him. He fired twice. One hit the man high in the chest and the other hit him in the abdomen as he fell.

Axel recocked his revolver and took aim at Klaus von Bülow. “The game’s up, von Bülow. Drop your weapon and surrender.”

Klaus laughed. “So we meet at last, Commander Zeetrell.” He dug his pistol hard under Christina’s jaw, making her wince in pain. “You have fired six times. Your revolver is empty.”

“I have more men behind me. There’s no escape, von Bülow.”

“You are mistaken. There is a secret passage behind this wardrobe that will take me to safety.”

Axel was worried. As long as von Bülow had that pistol at Christina’s head he didn’t dare do anything, but von Bülow was obviously unbalanced. There was no telling what the man might do. He spared a moment to glance at Christina. She was desperately trying to smile. Then she spread out her hand. First she showed five fingers. Then she curled one back, then another one. Axel wasn’t sure what she planned, but he took aim at von Bülow and mentally matched her countdown.

On zero Christina closed her eyes and slumped. Von Bülow was caught off guard by the sudden deadweight. His pistol slipped from its place against Christina’s head. Axel fired and immediately thumbed back the hammer for another shot, but he didn’t need it. The gore splattered wardrobe was a clear sign that von Bülow was no longer a problem.

Axel ran to Christina. At first she looked unharmed, but a grimace of pain had him worried. “Are you all right?” He asked as he gathered her in his arms.

Christina ignored the question and looked at Klaus von Bülow’s body. “That’s something else from the movie that was unrealistic.”

“What?”

“The movie. You know how you complained about unrealistic scenes. Well, the villain didn’t lose half his skull when Commander Zeetrell shot him.”

Axel relaxed. If she could make bad jokes she was okay. Suddenly Christina’s body tensed and she winced in pain. She put her hands on her distended belly. “What’s the matter,” Axel demanded.

She smiled at him. “I think the baby’s coming.”

Axel felt faint for a moment. He swallowed and looked at the serene smile on her face. No, she couldn’t be. Not here. Not now. Axel could feel the panic growing. He turned toward the door and screamed. “Medic!

Epilogue

USE Department of the Treasury, Late January 1636

Balthasar von Brunne, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury for the USE, looked up from the report he was reading and spoke to the up-timer seated opposite him. “Lord Holger Rosenkrantz, Lensmand of Hammershus Len, was responsible for the money franchise.” He shook his head. “I can hardly believe it.”

Phil Hart, the USE Treasury Department’s special liaison officer to the Federal Reserve Bank of Grantville, put the photograph he’d been looking at back in the folder and placed it on Balthasar’s desk. “All of the equipment for making the plates was found in rooms of the Hammershus.”

“Yes, I realize the evidence is there, but have you considered the political ramifications of a senior Danish official running a forgery operation?” Balthasar sighed. “We have to try and keep his involvement quiet.”

“General Lillie agrees, Balthasar. He thinks Lord Niels Gyldenstjerne will keep the actions of the late Lord Holger quiet if he is made the next Lensmand of Hammershus Len.”

“I can make such a recommendation.” Balthasar sighed again. “It’s fortunate he was involved in the successful defense of Bornholm. That will make the appointment less contentious, but that still leaves General Lillie. We can’t promote him again. Not when he’s only just made general.”

Phil pyramided his fingers. “You know, back up-time the old United States Treasury Department had a special service responsible for chasing forgers. Maybe you could recreate it and offer command of the service to General Lillie.”

Balthasar shook his head. “The general is a true soldier. He insisted in continuing to serve even after losing a leg at Mainz. I can’t see such a man being happy to chase forgers.”

“Ah, but not only did the service chase forgers, they were also responsible for protecting heads of state.” Phil smiled. “They called that branch of the Treasury the Secret Service.”

Balthasar choked back a giggle. “General Axel Lillie of His Majesty’s Secret Service?”

Phil smiled back. “And whenever he’s on official business . . . “

Balthasar realized where Phil’s questionable sense of humor was heading. ” . . . he’d be ‘On His Majesty’s Secret Service.'”

Phil was the first to start laughing, then Balthasar joined in. Eventually they stopped laughing, and after several deep breaths to calm himself, Balthasar regretfully shook his head. “General Lillie would never go for it.”

****

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